The Online Resource for Screenwriting

Screenplay Plot Development

Writing a screenplay is probably one of the most imaginative experiences one could have. You start with nothing but a blank piece of paper upon which you create a world. Things happen, or don't happen, only when you want them to. If only life was only like this!

A good screenplay centers on CONFLICT and RESOLUTION. If their are no conflicts, then their is no screenplay. The PLOT( THEME) of  your story should be able to be summarized  in one sentence. Something like: A man and a woman confront a series of obstacles, and discover something new about their relationship with each other.

The story structure follows basic 3 act drama structure:

*ACT1- Introduction (Pages 1-30) - PLOT POINT 1
*ACT2- Drama/ Conflicts (Pages 30-90) - PLOT POINT 2
*ACT3- Resolution/ Conclusion (Pages 90-120) 

The length of the movie may change, but if you look at most movies they basically follow this same structure. Although this is the basic structure of a screenplay DO NOT WRITE TO PLOT POINTS! Write your story with the screenplay structure only as a guideline.

Listed below are some other helpful tips to make the writing process easier:  

*THE MORE YOU KNOW, THE EASIER IT IS TO WRITE- The more you know about your story the easier it will be to write. You should try to know everything about your story before you start to write it.

*IDEAS, IDEAS, IDEAS- Ideas for screenplays can come from anywhere. Your life, things that you have read or seen, and thoughts that you have had about a subject can be the basis for your screenplay.  

*WATCH MOVIES AND READ SCREENPLAYS- Watch as many movies as you can, especially ones that are similar to what you are trying to write. See finished screenplay and rent the movie to see how a screenplay is portrayed on the screen.

*USE MULTI-COLOR CLUE CARDS- Before you start to write your screenplay, it is sometimes helpful to lay out each scene of your screenplay on multi-color clue cards. Each card can be filled with brief notes about the scene, and then arranged in any order.

*KEPT DIALOG AS SHORT AS POSSIBLE- Dialog between characters should be kept as short as possible. Avoid long speeches, or sermons in your screenplay.

*USING BLACK SLANG- Writing slang dialogue for your Black characters is a tough call. If you decide to use it remember that some of your audience may not understand what you are trying to say.

*GIVE A REASON WHY YOUR CHARACTERS ARE BLACK- If your story does not need your characters to be Black don't write color into them.   

*ACTION IS EVERYTHING- Try to kept your story moving at all times toward the conclusion. There are some example of sedimentary movies that has become great hits, but  usually a slow story is a boring movie.

*EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENS IN YOUR SCREENPLAY MUST BE LOGICAL, AND SETUP- Although your screenplay is a world that you have created all the laws of nature, and logic apply. For example: A character cannot use a weapon in a scene unless it was setup in a previous scene. NOTHING JUST HAPPENS IN YOUR SCREENPLAY. Avoid making the audience moan by having a character do something that is not logical.

*AVOID THIRD PARTY REFERENCES- Try to avoid writing phrases the start with  "WE SEE ______" or "WE HEAR ______" in your screenplay. Sometimes it is unavoidable to write phrases that begin like this, but this method has falling out of flavor in screenwriting. (We actually used this once our screenplay)  

*KNOW YOUR ENDING- Try to have a general idea of how your screenplay will end before you start. Consider your screenplay to be a journey. You know where you want to end up at, but getting there is the mystery of your story. Some writers start with the ending and work backwards, while others write from the beginning to the end. You might not know how you will reach the end, but at least know how it will end.

*YOUR SCREENPLAY WILL BE CHANGED- No matter how great a screenplay you write be prepared for it to be changed. Everyone, from the Director to the Actors, will have their views of  how your screenplay should be turned into a movie. Hopefully the changes will not change what you were trying to say in your screenplay. A good example of what we mean by "change" was in the movie "Three Kings" written by a Black screenwriter named John Ridley. His main character was suppose to be a young Black soldier in the Persian Gulf  War. But, the studio changed the main character to a white soldier, because they thought that it would appeal to a greater audience. You will have to ask yourself if you are willing to go along with something like this in order to get your screenplay turned into a movie.    

*HAPPY ENDINGS- You don't have to have a happy ending to your screenplay, but it sure helps. Hollywood loves happy endings, and so do most people that watch movie (outside of movie critics). Remember this line from Woody Allen's movie "Annie Hall": " In movies you should try to have happy endings, because life so rarely does."   

Reading this section is a good start on putting your screenplay together. The BOOKS, SOFTWARE, EXAMPLE SCREENPLAY, and  CLASSES on this site can provide you  with more information on the screenwriting process. But, the bottom line is that either you have a good story to tell, or you don't. Good screenwriting  is a art, and just like any other art only so much can be taught.  Remember that the above information is to help you develop the tools you will need to write, but the skills to write must come from within.



Screenplay Plot